The nursing profession is grounded in the spirit of service to society. Nurses often speak of giving back to the community, contributing to the greater good and other laudable aspirations. Nurses give a great deal, and volunteerism often plays a part in nurses' life work and personal mission.

Florence Nightingale basically created the profession of nursing as we know it today. She imbued it with a sense that nurses are individuals who will often do the things that others are unwilling to do, whether it's tending to the dying or dealing with infected wounds and bodily secretions.

With the recent floods and devastation in Houston and other areas of Texas and Louisiana, we are again reminded of how healthcare professionals are in the vanguard of bringing skilled medical and nursing care to where it's needed most.

When it comes to community service, nurses' contributions come in many forms, none more meaningful than the other. In a profession based on service to others, nurses will often go above and beyond in the face of human suffering.

Medical missions

Medically-oriented missions are both faith-based and secular in nature, and nurses volunteer for such organizations on a regular basis.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medicins sans Frontiere (MSF.org) is a well-oiled and highly effective volunteer organization that has captured the imagination of countless healthcare professionals and the general public. MSF has inspired many individuals to donate their time and expertise in far-flung countries experiencing famine, disease outbreaks and the aftermath of war.

Global Outreach Doctors (globaloutreachdoctors.org) is a similar yet smaller humanitarian organization that sends doctors and other healthcare professionals into needy areas impacted by disease and armed conflict. MedicalMissions.org serves as a liaison between humanitarian groups and healthcare professionals seeking volunteer opportunities.

There appears to be no shortage of entities with missions of serving the most vulnerable humans on the planet, and nurses remain central to the successful execution of such endeavors.

Public service

In the United States, nurses volunteer for vaccination clinics, mass incident and emergency preparedness trainings, homeless shelters, mobile street outreach and all manner of public service.

Savvy, community-oriented healthcare organizations promote community volunteerism among their staff, at time "lending" staff for emergency response to situations such as the 9/11 or Boston Marathon terrorist attacks.

Community service is ingrained in nurses and other healthcare professionals, and many feel a responsibility to respond when needed, whether locally, regionally or internationally.

The Good Samaritan nurse

Another form of common nurse volunteerism is that of the Good Samaritan nurse who intervenes when he or she witnesses another person in jeopardy.

In restaurants, shopping malls, parking lots and cafes around the world, nurses consistently respond when a stranger faints, has a seizure, chokes while eating lunch or experiences a fall or accident. Nurses are trained in rapid assessment and critical thinking, and these skills lend themselves to prudent responses to emergent situations.

While volunteerism and the heroics of international missions are well-documented, the unsung moments of timely yet unofficial nurse intervention are legion. Nurses act because they're trained to, not for glory or commendation.

Contributing to the greater good

If one were to interview 100 people regarding their opinions about nurses and nursing, what would often be recorded is individuals' stories about nurses saving the day, responding when they're needed most, and intervening selflessly in difficult situations.

Nursing is indeed the powerhouse of the healthcare industry, supplying by far the vast lion’s share of all healthcare workers. Nurses are essential to the smooth running of the system and the achievement of optimal patient outcomes.

Outside the workplace, nurses continue to contribute, whether in Houston, Somalia, Pittsburg or Mosul. It may not be calculated well, but there is no doubt in this writer's mind that nurses may also very well be a powerhouse of volunteer efforts worldwide, specifically those that are medically related.

Community service and contributing to the well-being of others seems intrinsic to the nursing profession, and that is a legacy worth recognizing and preserving.